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Houston, We're Getting a Wisteria

Next month, the furniture and home decor company will open its first store outside Dallas here in Upper Kirby.

By Abby Ledoux October 7, 2019

For the first time in its 18-year history, Wisteria—the globally inspired furniture and home decor company—is expanding its physical presence outside Dallas with a 9,000-square-foot store set to open here early next month at 3461 W. Alabama.

To which we say, what took you so long?!

The Upper Kirby store will be the third brick-and-mortar for Wisteria, which has a strong national presence thanks to its e-commerce site and—get ready for a real throwback here—its catalog.

The latter is how the brand got its start nearly two decades ago, when Dallas couple Shannon and Andrew Newsom began publishing a home decor catalog of items they discovered on frequent international travels. Captivated by artisan-made treasures and home goods from places like China and India, the Newsoms dreamed of sharing their finds with the world, which they did from their dining room table.

They mailed the first Wisteria catalog in 2001 and launched a digital presence in 2004, steadily growing the company and partnering with makers around the world while also contributing to non-profits supporting those communities. In-house exclusive product design began in 2006, and Wisteria opened its first storefront in 2010. A second, also in Dallas, followed in 2015.

Wisteria products arranged in a living room setting, including a reclaimed wood nomad sunburst mirror, vintage 19th-century cart wheel, and a French modernist woven leather armchair.

The company had over 100 employees, two international offices, and sales across the country by 2018, when it sold to British furniture and home decor brand OKA Direct Ltd. Caryn Lerner, Wisteria's new president, says expanding outside Dallas represents the company's entering "a new stage in our growth."

Lerner says Houston was a natural choice for expansion given the existing customer base here, who already shop with Wisteria online or when they're in Dallas, and to avoid unnecessary operational complexities tied to opening stores in other states with varying laws related to retail. "For our first time out [of Dallas], it felt more doable to execute successfully," Lerner says.

These are uncertain times for brick-and-mortar as companies large and small shutter storefronts left and right, opting to transition solely into e-tail—that is, if they keep doing business at all. The fact that, in this age of Amazon, Wisteria is bucking the national trend and actually expanding its physical footprint seems near revolutionary.

"There's no right or wrong formula for every retailer," Lerner says, citing strategically located stores and a delicate combination of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce that keeps Wisteria working. Since the company announced its forthcoming Houston opening, she adds, "we've had a tremendous response."

Wisteria products in an outdoor setting, including leather armchairs, whitewash oak dining table, and stools made of interlocking teak root.

Of course, when it comes to furniture, there's an obvious advantage to having a physical presence (wait, that couch is that blue?!)—just ask Wayfair. Back in March, the e-commerce giant announced that it, too, would debut a brick-and-mortar this fall.

To that end, Lerner says a Houston shop will "bring the brand to life" for local customers by creating room scenes with its widely diverse products, and eventually hosting special events, from designer trunk shows to presentations by industry experts.

Those events will take place in the Upper Kirby store's centrally located greenhouse—complete with skylight—a unique element meant to bring the outdoors inside and to provide a relaxing atmosphere where shoppers can just relax with a coffee. Houston-based Murphy Mears Architects designed the store, which a press release says is intended to be a "destination experience" for customers to meet with friends or designers, discuss home inspiration, and—oh yeah—shop.

Still largely inspired by travel after all these years, Wisteria's inventory is eclectic and often exclusive, with global artisans creating one-of-a-kind products for the brand. The Rare Birds Collection features "exceptional artisan creations" as well as rare vintage items found on the Wisteria team's travels, from an authentic Tibetan trunk to a hand-carved wood table made by members of the Naga tribe.

"We look for one-of-a-kind items for people to have in their homes and to have stories to tell about these pieces and what they mean," Lerner says. "We aren't afraid to mix modern and traditional. We're not one style ... that gives us the kind of appeal that we have."

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